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UTPB welcomes area students for science fair

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Posted: Saturday, March 3, 2012 12:00 am

One day, 10-year-old Zachary Robinson said he will power his house with thousands of potatoes.

Zachary, along with 229 third- through fifth-grade students, 150 sixth- through eighth-grade students and 45 high school students, presented findings and hypotheses Saturday at the 28th Annual Permian Basin Regional Science Fair at UTPB.

“I heard stories about potatoes being able to produce electricity, and I wanted to try it out,” Zachary said. Zachary’s project was presented in the fourth-grade chemistry category. He is a student at St. John’s Episcopal School.

To test whether potatoes were in fact capable of producing electricity, Zachary hooked a voltmeter to zinc and copper probes and found that a potato produce an electric potential of 2.3 volts.

Keely White and Mahaily Rogers, a team of seniors at Andrews High School, were awarded the best overall project at the PBRSF. Dr. Stephen Nelson, PBRSF coordinator, said the two won for “their detailed chemical study into the antibacterial properties which shark skin imparts to water.”

Damon Meyers, an Odessa High School senior was awarded the runner-up overall project for what Nelson said was a “brain-wave reading device built out of amazingly cheap and readily-available commercial parts.”

White, Rogers and Meyers all qualify to compete at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburg from May 13 to May 18.

Numerous other high school students qualified to participate in the ExxonMobil Texas Science and Engineering Fair in San Antonio.

Doug Hale, a past coordinator of the science fair and professor of mathematics and computer science at UTPB, said he’d love to have as many high school participants as there are junior high and elementary participants.

“In a practical sense, the University gives a significant amount of scholarship money to high school students that participate,” Hale said.

This year, UTPB will give $152,000 in scholarship money, if the participants attend UTPB.

In general, though, Hale said the number of participants is dwindling.

“Even the number of third- through fifth-grade participants is starting to decline, and it’s because the science fair isn’t on the (STAAR) test — it drives me nuts,” he said. “It’s disappointing to see this (number of participants). It’s not growing.”

However, Hale said Andrews’ school district is one that always encourages science fair participation.

Last year, Andrews High School sent eight participants to the ExxonMobil Texas Science and Engineering Fair, and two participants to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles.

Andrews High School science teachers Cindy Tochterman and Vickie Gardner said they encourage their students to pursue projects they express a genuine interest in, but only if that topic requires new and original research.

“They can’t have a canned project. It can’t be something someone’s done before,” Tochterman said.

One of their students, 18-year-old Jessica Pool, conducted research on a “super plant” capable of being cultivated throughout Andrews to diversify the county’s crop.

Pool said “saltwort,” which grows natively in coastal regions like the Galveston area, can be used for human consumption, animal forage and biodiesel, which makes the plant a “super plant.”

“It’s currently being cultivated for biofuel in Saudi Arabia, Eritrea and Mexico,” Pool said. “Between 90 to 100 millions gallons of biodiesel can be produced from a harvest.”

She argued that it would be viable to obtain soil from a number of 20,000 currently non-utilized “playa lakes” in order to cultivate the saltwort in Andrews.

This was Pool’s first regional science fair.

“At first, it was really nerve-wracking, but after a few runs, I got the hang of it. It turned out to be a lot less stressful than I anticipated,” Pool said.

In the end, Pool was awarded first place in the plant science division, which qualified her to represent Andrews High School at the ExxonMobil Texas Science and Engineering Fair from March 29 to April 1.


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